Previous month:
March 2011
Next month:
May 2011

April 2011

Beware of this plant!

Fragaria,strawberry,LipstickPotentilla. Image © (all rights reserved)
Last summer, not until about July, I think, judy planted Fragaria ‘Lipstick’ in a shady place in front of a holly. I remember saying at the time: “I’m not sure that’s a good idea…”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty plant with vivid pink strawberry flowers and attractive ground covering foliage. But it’s not, as they say, backward in coming forward.

Yesterday evening I was doing some after-the-last-of-the-snow-I-hope tidying up and I noticed this slender red stem with a rosette of strawberry foliage at the end. It seemed a long way from where the fragaria had been planted but I found I could trace it back to the original plant - five and a half feet away! In half the summer it had sent out a runner five and a half feet long (that’s 1.7m for metric Brits). As you can see, I got out the tape and measured it. And people get their knickers in a twist about ivy and vinca! They’re snails by comparison.

The thing is ‘Lipstick’, as well as ‘Pink Panda’ and ‘Red Ruby’, are not actually strawberries at all. They’re hybrids between a strawberry and Potentilla palustris. This is not as unexpected as you might think, botanists look likely to combine Fragaria, the strawberries, with Potentilla into one genus. Think of the possibilities! A shrub like Potentilla fruticosa with fruits like strawberries – so much easier to pick! I bet someone has tried to create exactly that.

Fragaria,strawberry,Lipstick,Potentilla. Photo Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc. (all rights reserved) Anyway… I’m not saying don’t plant ‘Lipstick’, or ‘Pink Panda’ or ‘Red Ruby’ which are just as vigorous. Take a look at the picture on the left, you can see why ‘Lipstick’ is appealing. But just think first, and choose the right situation.

This week I’m going to plant some ‘Lipstick’ outside the deer fence and see what happens. If the deer eat it, I’ll be delighted. If not, that would be really bad news and I’ll have to rip it out.

In North America, you can buy Fragaria 'Lipstick' from North Creek Nurseries. They say: "Fragaria 'Lipstick' has a creeping habit that makes for a wonderful groundcover as well as an accent to almost any perennial in the garden." Hah!

In Britain, you can buy Fragaria 'Lipstick', if you choose, from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries.


The View from Great Dixter

ViewGreatDixter9781604692150lA few weeks ago I reviewed Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter, Stephen Anderton’s controversial biography of Christopher Lloyd. But there’s also been a second book, The View from Great Dixter (Timber Press). This is an altogether more comfortable read but provides a rich and multi-faceted portrait of the man, his house, his garden and his plants.

For the book is made up entirely of recollections from a wide range of Dixter visitors and friends of Christo, each personal memory contributing to the picture in the same way as the plants in Dixter’s Long Border are all both important in themselves and but also help build the complete display.

The spread of contributors is impressive. From Britain they include Rosemary Alexander, Beth Chatto, Ian Hodgson, Alan Titchmarsh and Joy Larkcom, plus Dublin’s Helen Dillon. From North America there’s Cole Burrell, Tom Cooper, Joe Eck, Tom Fischer, Dan Hinkley, Marco Polo Stefano, Wayne Winterrowd and more. Together with Fergus Garrett, of course, Christo’s inspired choice to take Dixter into the future. All unafraid to express the full breadth of their recollections.

One current that I noticed running through the book is that many visitors were wary, if not downright scared, at the prospect of first meeting Christo – but were quickly won over. I was a little apprehensive myself. Tom Fischer, for example, on the staff of an American gardening magazine when they first met and now Editor-in-Chief at the company publishing the book. On first meeting Christo he says: “…the chief emotion I felt was pure terror.” But things soon changed. “As it turned out…,” he says, “under that formidable exterior Christo turned out to be the soul of kindness…”

Family, friends (some from the world of opera), gardeners, plantspeople, designers, writers, painters – all help us remember Christo (in all his moods) and help the many people who knew him only from his writing get a full sense of him and his huge influence.

And, I should mention, no fees were paid to contributors - we all gave our contributions to help support the future of Great Dixter. (Yes, I’m in there too.)


Sparkling new French hellebores

Hellebore,hellebores,Thierry Delabroye,Luc Klinkhamer. Image ©Luc Klinkhamer

Hellebore,hellebores,Thierry Delabroye,Luc Klinkhamer. Image ©Luc Klinkhamer


I just thought I’d show you these two plates of new hellebores raised by Thierry Delabroye in France. He’s the man who developed heucheras like ‘Caramel’, ‘Tiramisu’ and the splendid ‘Citronelle’ as well as other fine perennials. Now, he’s turned his hand to hellebores and these two plates show some of the results. Click on each to see a much enlarged version. No news, yet, on when these will be available.

All the best hellebores used to be bred in Britain, starting with Elizabeth Strangman and Hellen Ballard. Then in recent years American breeders like Marietta O’Byrne at North West Garden Nursery and Judith Knott Tyler at Pine Knot Farms have taken center stage.

Now it’s back to Europe with Joseph Heuger in Germany raising some fine hybrids of H. niger, as have David Tristram, and Kevin Belcher at Ashwood Nurseries in Britain, plus there's the new interspecific hybrid from Holland I featured a few weeks ago.

Hellebore,hellebores,Thierry Delabroye,Luc Klinkhamer. Image ©Luc Klinkhamer And now these lovely new plants from Thierry Delabroye – who also has the first scented form of H. x hybridus (right, click to enlarge).


Special thanks to Luc Klinkhamer for the use of his splendid pictures.

Out in the woods – the freshest green thing on view

Lycopodium,Diphasiastrum,clubmoss. Image © (all rights reserved)
Out for a hike late yesterday, down Five Mile Meadow Road, on the state game lands. Not being very fit after being cooped up all winter, I only went half way and back and it still felt like ten miles.

Far too early for any bursting buds, new growth or any signs of spring, really – except for this. Lycopodium digitatum – fan clubmoss. As you can see its very pretty bright foliage has come through the icy and snowy winter unscathed; it was the freshest green thing on view and the pattern of the foliage is delightful.

Sometimes called Diphasiastrum digitatum, and related to ferns, it creeps steadily in dry forests and on banks and grows wild right across the east from Newfoundland all the way south to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

It suddenly appeared in the garden here a few years back, miles from anywhere else I’d seen it, and has settled happily into an ungardened and unexpectedly damp spot. I dug a piece up and moved it into the richer conditions of the shade garden. It died.

Also of interest on my hike, was the sight of the Game Commission obeying its own rules...No dumping,Game Commission. Image © (all rights reserved)

Impressive, not-so-new delphinum

Delphinium,Summerfield,Oberon,David Bassett,book,Hardy Perennials. Image © (all rights reserved)
Back in the early 1990s, top delphinium breeder David Bassett gave me a plant of his ‘Summerfield Oberon’. This is a gorgeous delphinium, the flowers are a sumptuous deep purple with a white eye. I really liked it and used a picture of it on the cover my book, Hardy Perennials, published in 1995.

Strangely, I now see that although the plant is on the cover I utterly failed to discuss it in the book itself! How did I manage that? How did my editor not notice? You can find out more about in on David Bassett’s website.

Unfortunately ‘Summerfield Oberon’ was only ever available from a very few nurseries in Britain (mainly delphinium specialists), and not at all in North America as far as I know (I’d be delighted to be corrected). It clung on in Britain, down to just one supplier in 2005, but never quite disappeared altogether. To be honest, I thought it had completely gone otherwise I’d have ordered a plant to replace the one I lost when I moved.

Now I see it’s listed under “New Plants for 2011” in the Hayloft Plants catalogue. This is one of those occasions when the line between “new” and “new in this catalogue” can be a little blurred. Clearly it’s not brand new, it’s been around almost 20 years. But I certainly commend Hayloft for adding it to their range and bringing this superb plant to a wider audience.

And the book, which won a Garden Media Guild Award in 1995, is still available too.

Readers in Britain can order Delphinium ‘Summerfield Oberon’ from Hayloft Plants. They do not ship plants to North America, but they do ship to Germany, Austria and other European countries.

Online postings in March

Here’s another update of my work that has appeared online in the last month. Just click the links to go to the pages.

Transatlantic Plantsman blog

Newly redesigned and upgraded last month, in new colours and with more posts. And, with my most recent post, celebrating 500 posts on this blog! Thanks for being with me for the ride.
Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
Here are the plants featured this month.
Continuing my choices from plants for special uses and in familiar groups awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM):
Be sure to take a look at all my selections of AGM plants.

And continuing my choices of plants recently award the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).